Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:
Winston-Salem Journal on unemployment insurance funding:
It is good that legislative leaders and Republican gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory want North Carolina to be more business-friendly. But they must be fair to all taxpayers in doing so.
North Carolina owes the federal government $2.8 billion in unemployment insurance funds, a debt McCrory says all taxpayers should repay. That's not fair.
The state's debt accrued during the recession after jobless-benefits claims depleted the state's reserves.
While the recession is the most immediate cause of the debt, a series of business-friendly unemployment insurance premium cuts from the 1990s on were equally to blame. The Legislature repeatedly reduced premiums charged to employers because the state's unemployment rate was so low and, consequently, the state's reserves were inadequate when the recession hit.
Unemployment insurance is an employee benefit that employers are legally required to pay. In that regard, it is like the requirement for worker's compensation insurance and the employer portion of Social Security. Many employers, when they provide new employees with compensation information, explain that unemployment insurance is part of the total package the worker is earning.
During the 2011-12 General Assembly, the issue of repaying the debt through a general obligation bond surfaced several times. Now McCrory has raised it on the campaign trail. But that is not fair to the millions of North Carolina taxpayers who do not own businesses. The obligation to pay unemployment insurance premiums is not theirs; that obligation belongs to the state's businesses.
A $2.8 billion bond issue would raise the state's bonded indebtedness level beyond that which the state treasurer and other capable finance watchers have deemed prudent. It would leave North Carolina heavily in debt and, therefore, with no room to borrow further for general social needs, like better roads and schools.
The general public is not responsible for this debt and should not be required to pay it. The Legislature should devise a plan to repay this debt over time through higher unemployment insurance premiums. It is a business responsibility, and it is only fair that business covers this debt.
The Herald-Sun of Durham on the death penalty:
Stanley Peele, a columnist for The Herald-Sun and Chapel Hill Herald, wrote a three-part series on the death penalty that appeared in The Herald-Sun recently. He highlights a number of concerns with how the death penalty is implemented, and what the state of death row is today in North Carolina.
Death row is in limbo in North Carolina, thanks to a number of factors that have combined to result, in essence, in a moratorium on the death penalty in our state, in all but name.
No inmate has been put to death since Aug. 18, 2006, though 155 inmates remain on death row.
It is a relief that death row has ground to a halt. A system as rife with inconsistencies and potential unfairness as this one should not be used to deal out the ultimate punishment.
Peele, a judge who serves in an emergency capacity throughout the state, makes a number of compelling points in his series.
Defendants are more likely to get a death sentence in Wake County, which has 10 death row inmates, than Durham County, which has none.
About 149 cases stand to be litigated under the Racial Justice Act, a law that allows statistics to be used in order to show bias, and if bias is shown, a sentence would be reduced from death to life without parole. Those cases, Peele writes, may take years in some instances to decide. The Racial Justice Act was used in a case this year to reduce a sentence to life, although since that case it has been weakened by an amendment passed in July.
The state may be unable to find medical assistance to perform executions, with both the American Medical Association and North Carolina Medical Board opposed to having doctors attend. (North Carolina's method of execution is lethal injection). ...
Peele suggests possible ways to reduce the number of death row inmates, such as by examining criminal records to find those with less egregious convictions; removing inmates over a certain age; or removing inmates based on when the crime is committed.
None of these are perfect options, and there seems to be no easy way forward. What is clear, though, is the current state of death row in North Carolina is unfair to victims' families, those incarcerated and their families — it's a terrible situation for everyone.
The News & Observer of Raleigh on help for the mentally ill:
It has only just begun, but some 135 adult care homes in North Carolina may be looking at a loss of Medicaid funding to cover their residents. The federal government has determined it will withhold Medicaid for homes where more than half the residents are mentally ill. That kind of mix is regarded as not safe for elderly and infirm residents. Despite the homes' good intentions, those residents can be at risk from mentally ill residents, some of whom may be inclined to lose control.
After all, younger mentally ill people can behave violently as a consequence not of their intentions but their illnesses. Setting a ceiling on the percentage of mentally ill residents allowed in a home reflects a reasonable expectation by the government that such places will be safer as a result. It also furthers the worthwhile aim of encouraging more of the mentally ill to live on their own.
North Carolina has responded in part to new federal rules by setting aside almost $40 million to replace lost Medicaid money. But that seems both a stopgap measure and one that will be inadequate in the long term.
Owners of adult care homes aren't happy about the new rules. But both state and federal officials should be looking out for the welfare of the homes' residents, many of them poor as well as elderly. That means encouraging independence and the security it brings (while ensuring that care is good) and spending those Medicaid dollars in a manner that's not just the most efficient but the most helpful to people who need it.
By now, most North Carolinians are painfully aware of the disastrous mental health "reform" that began a little more than 10 years ago. In a 2008 series, The News & Observer showed that so-called reform, part of which aimed at putting the mentally ill who were capable of doing more for themselves back in their communities instead of in institutions, was a failure. Hundreds of millions of dollars had been wasted on alleged community services that didn't amount to much but for which the state paid inflated amounts.
Today, the mentally ill still are hurting for services...
North Carolina, having been stung by the failure of reform and frustrated and perplexed as to what to do next, clearly needs to address this issue with more than temporary appropriations that probably aren't adequate anyway. ...